I'm a cat person. Okay, scratch that, I like my cat. My cat is amazing and odd and friendly and does the kinds of things you would think your lazy hipster roomate would do. We have a great partnership that way. So when I saw all the animal creations that Kristina Micotti made for her solo show. Pet Store, a collection of paintings and collectibles for Recess in San Francisco, it reminded me that maybe I just liked the idea of pets as cartoon-like than the real thing. As her solo show comes to a close, Lyndsie Fox of Recess sat down with Micotti to talk about her ideal pets, the Renegade Craft Fair and keeping things loosey goosey... baby. 

Lyndsie Fox: Thank you so much for all your hard work on this show, Kristina! We’ve all been huge fans for years and were so excited to finally work on a full solo show with you. For those of our followers who may not be familiar, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work?
Kristina Micotti: I am a first generation (on my mom’s side) illustrator and designer from the Bay Area. My work is playful, bold, and simple. I like to make anything that makes me happy and laugh. I have been an illustrator for 8 years and worked with companies such as Facebook, FiveThirtyEight, LA Times, and Chronicle Books.

 Do you work as an independent artist full-time, or do you moonlight as a creative after your day job?
I started my freelance career after graduating college and I recently started working as an elementary art school teacher. The opportunity of teaching kind of fell into my lap and was something that I never thought about doing. I am surprised with how much fun I have with the kids and love being able to encourage their creative sides. But I was also a little naive with how much work it really is and how many times I have to tell kids to take their finger out of their nose... I have so much respect for full time teachers, especially in this unusual COVID-19 climate.

Kristina Micotti Portrait

I remember first seeing your work years ago at Renegade Craft in San Francisco, and immediately fell in love with your style! The subjects and their narratives are bright, funny, whimsical, and rendered so playfully loose. How did this particular style develop for you?
It really started at my first Renegade Craft Fair in SF. I had just graduated college and had a portfolio filled with intricate pen drawings and made them into prints to sell. I was worried that my booth would be too empty so I decided to do some quick ink paintings to fill up the space. Little did I know that I would sell all the quick ink paintings that I did the night before and only a fraction of the prints that took me a whole semester to create.

That was when I started to primarily paint with india ink and I started to get recognized for my ink paintings. Over the past 6 years of doing shows, my paintings have really developed into the style I have now. I used to only use black ink but slowly I have allowed myself to use more color in my work. I still like to work last minute and normally don’t create the paintings for the shows until a week before. It allows me to work in the moment, keeping things fresh, and helps me not to overthink it.

This style embodies such childlike freedom—a purity uninhibited by exact form and strict rules. The marks just fall where they fall, and you make something whole and happy out of them no matter what. Are your free-flowing style, subject matter, or funny narratives influenced by your work with children?
Since teaching, I find myself experimenting more with new mediums as well as playing with different colors and patterns. However, I wouldn't contribute my overall style to working with children, since teaching is still relatively new to me.

Kristina Micotti Dogs 2020

You tend to work fairly fast and, seemingly, without any revisions. Do you actually create work within that sort of “one-and-done” process, or is there a lot of drafting and re-working behind the scenes that you don’t share?
This is true for my ink paintings! I like to keep those loosey goosey baby. However, when I work with other mediums or designing a new product, I do a sketch on my iPadPro and then play around with different color combinations until I find one I am happy with. That way when I start my painting or doing my final design, I know the colors I’m using and a rough placement of things.

The majority of your work focuses on animals. Why do you gravitate toward animals as subject matter? What are you expressing through them that you can’t express through, say, humans or inanimate objects?
I have always been drawn to animals since I was little. I would always just observe the animals in our yard - I grew up in a farming community where there was a plethora of wild cats, deer, lizards and quails and I was always down to see what bugs were on the sidewalk. I also had a huge affinity towards monkeys and I wanted to be Jane Goodall when I grew up. I was that kid with waaaay too many stuffed animals on their bed and I would wear those stuffed monkey toys (the ones with the velcro on their hands and feet) from the rainforest cafe around my neck as a necklace, like it was normal.

My fascination with animals only grew as I got older and it has really transferred over to my artwork. Animals allow me to be more playful and I get a big kick out of drawing them. I just think they are more fun and entertaining as a subject matter. I mean, wouldn’t you rather see a cat in sunglasses or a frog with a mustache?

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Your new Pet Store exhibition is a collection of portraits of domestic animals you’d find in a typical, suburban pet store, each with its own miniaturized accessory. We see a hamster holding a blocky old-school flip phone, a pink pit bull wearing sandals, a bearded dragon with a cowboy hat and freshly manicured red claws, a tarantula wearing tiny octo-framed sunglasses, and 40+ other portraits in the same vein - each funnier than the last! What was your inspiration for this specific “Pet Store” collection?

I have always been fascinated with animals, either live or inanimate. I would beg my parents to let me get a dog or a hamster but instead they would just buy me the Littlest Pet Shop toy sets. Each set would come with a pet and a random accessory and I remember loving and caring for my new “pets” and their brightly colored hair brush or food bowl. When the toys weren’t enough to appease me, my mom would take me to a pet store to look at the live animals and then she would buy me the care guides of the pets I wanted to own. I would read them all, never realizing that the guide book was all I would ever be getting.

The collection is inspired by those trips to the pet store and all the toy “pets” I had in the 90s. This is the pet store of my childhood dreams and I would be happy to read a care guide on any of them.

Which pet from your “Pet Store” show is your favorite, and why?
I have a couple of favorites. The first one is the yellow kitten with the red ball of yarn. It was one of the first pieces I created and really set the tone for the rest of the series. I also painted my own dog, Frankie. I made her green because she loves tennis balls- she would chase a ball to the moon if she could. I also really loved the guinea pig in sunglasses as well as the hamster with a 90s brick cell phone.

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What would be your ideal pet, and what “Pet Store” style accessory would it have?
My ideal pet would be a leopard gecko and it would have a pink barbie jeep to ride around the house!

When I first saw your work at Renegade Craft all those years ago, I was especially drawn to your custom pet portraits! So we’re super excited here at Recess to be offering some extra-special pet portraits this month, to go along with your show. How will these new “Pet Store” pet portraits differ from your regular customs?
Yes! These will be more unique pet portraits than ones I normally offer. Instead of using the ink and paper I typically use for customs, I am doing these portraits in the same style as the show, using acrylic paints on a wood panel. These portraits will be more colorful and bolder than my typical portraits and the fun part is that you can choose your own accessory to go with your pet! This is something that I am doing exclusively for the show and won’t do after the show.

Part of what we love so much about your work is its accessibility - your original works are super affordable, and all of your pins, apparel, totes, and other products even more so. We’ve stocked up on a ton of fun collectibles from your personal product line to go with your show, so there’s something for every collector to enjoy! Can you tell us more about your “Pet Store”-exclusive totes, dad hats, and sticker packs?
I loved making the “Pet Store” exclusive products! The dad hats are really fun to do and all embroidered here in San Jose. I had already created a beanie with a cat face embroidered on it so I thought this design would be perfect for the show. I wanted to have a dog hat to accompany it so I enjoyed making a little dog face to complete the set. I paint tote bags for each of my craft shows so, naturally, I wanted to paint totes exclusively for this show. I loved playing with designs I had already painted for the show by using different color combinations or giving them a new accessory. And I created two sticker packs for the show with miniature versions of the “Pet Store” pets. The first one contains only cat and dog stickers, and the second one contains a mix of all the different pets.

Generally with all my products, I design everything down to the packaging and then get them manufactured for me. It's such a fun challenge to put your art on a variety of products, especially when they have different design constraints or limitations.

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Are there any other new mediums, products, or projects you’re working on right now?
Yes, I am always working on new products and planning on releasing a new summer collection in late June. I am also currently in the early stages of creating my first book with Chronicle Books! I’m excited for this book and it will be the perfect distraction for everything that is going on.

How have the current COVID-19 restrictions affected your creativity and production? Do you have any words of advice for people on how to better support the arts during this time?
The current climate and isolation has weirdly made me more creative. I feel like it’s my fight or flight response to this whole situation. Creating goofy illustrations and products is keeping me busy and allows me to escape the crazy that’s been going on. I’ve been focusing on only posting fun things on my social media just to provide a laugh for people during these weird times.

My advice is to buy from artists and other small businesses and to share their products or work on social media. As a one woman shop, I always appreciate when people take the time to share my work and encourage others to buy from me. It really goes a long way!

Kristina Micotti's Pet Store is virtually on view at Recess SF through May 30, 2020